About me

I am an Entomologist working on the evolution of species interactions at the Biosystematics Group at Wageningen University, The Netherlands, led by Prof. Eric Schranz. I am interested in the evolutionary pathways that gave rise to intricate interactions between plants, butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) their symbiotic microbes and natural enemies (hymenopteran parasitoids). Besides my interest in the fundamental aspects on  the evolutionary ecology of insect-microbe-plant interactions I aim to transfer the gained knowledge to the society and stakeholders.

Together with my team we are studying the evolutionary, genetic and molecular mechanism of a butterfly egg-killing plant trait triggered by pest insects in economically important cabbage crops.

Besides egg-killing plant traits, I am interested in the evolution of butterfly anti-sex pheromones and whether they are constrained by tiny Trichogramma egg parasitoids, natural enemies of butterflies and moths. Recently, I received an NWO Open competition call on 'Natural selection on butterfly sex scents by egg parasitoids and implications for biological control'.  Together with two PhD students and a technician we are working on pheromone evolution and selection pressure exerted by Trichogramma wasps.

Since recent, I am involved in a project on insect biodiversity on green roofs (BiodiverCity) and co-supervise one PhD student.

Finally, I work on biological control agents, parasitic wasps, and am involved in a biocontrol project on olive fruitflies in collaboration with the TEI institute on Crete, Greece.

I  collaborate with Applied Zoology/Animal Ecology group at the Freie Universität Berlin led by Prof. Monika Hilker.

Students that are interested in joining my team are welcome, check for MSc/BSc thesis possibilities!

Whiteboard animation on egg-killing plants

Watch this whiteboard animation with drawings by myself and animated by Corine Feenstra, videojournalist at WUR. It was made for my Dies Natalis talks #WUR100 (see post March 21, 2018).

A butterfly female lays her eggs on the lower side of the leaf (shot 1). The female carefully glues the eggs onto the leaf surface with the help of a secretion released from the ovipositor (shot 2). With some plants these eggs develop to caterpillars without the plant noticing it (shot 3). After a couple of days the caterpillar emerges (shot 4-6), and often first feeds on the egg shell (shot 7) before it starts to feed on the plant. Many caterpillars can eat whole plants (shot 8). Some plants have developed a way to prevent eggs from hatching (shot 9-10). Those plants can recognize the egg upon deposition often by the egg glue between the egg and the plant (shot 11). We have been showing that the egg glue itself contains molecules that trigger an egg-killing cell necrosis, called hypersensitive-like response resembling disease resistance responses. Probably, the egg molecules (EAMPs) bind to plant receptors on the plasma membrane (shot 12). After the molecules bind to the receptors, the latter become activated (shot 13) and trigger a cascade of reactions and molecules that migrate through the cell and induce it to respond. The cell responds with the expression of certain defence genes (shot 14) that eventually lead to the necrosis (shot 15-17). So far, we neither know the nature of the egg molecules nor which receptors or genes are involved that lead to egg-killing. The necrosis and maybe some chemicals produced lead to the egg shrivelling and sometimes falling off the plant (shot 18). Instead of being eaten the plant can nicely grow and reproduce – if no other invaders are attacking her (shot 19).

Curriculum vitae

Research:   

Chemical, behavioural, molecular and evolutionary ecology of insect-microbe-plant  interactions

Degrees:

Doctor rer. nat. (PhD) in Biology, Freie Universität (FU) Berlin, Germany, 2006

Diploma (MSc) Biology, FU Berlin, 2000

Working experience:

2016-2018         Assistant professor at Biosystematics Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

2016                  A.v. Humboldt research fellow at Mainz University, Germany

2014-2015         Visiting professor and fellow at FU Berlin

2007-2014         Post-doctoral researcher at Laboratory of Entomology, Wageningen University

Fellowships and grants:

2021     NWO/ENW open competition grant

2015     Personal grant for talented experienced researchers to develop own research line (VIDI) by NWO

2014     Alexander van Humboldt Research fellowship for experienced researchers

2014     Aspasia grant to encourage the promotion of female Vidi grant candidates to an associate professorship by Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)

2009     Personal grant for talented young researchers (VENI) by NWO

2007     Research fellowship for highly qualified young researchers by German Research Foundation (DFG)

Invited talks/seminars:

2020     Netherlands Annual Ecology Meeting, Lunteren, The Netherlands

2019     Seminar at Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding, Cologne, Germany

2018     12th annual EPS workshop on Plant-insect interactions, Leiden, The Netherlands

2018     Dies Natalis 100 years Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands

2017     Annual meeting Experimental Plant Sciences, Lunteren, The Netherlands

2017     Gordon Research Conference Plant-Herbivore Interaction, Ventura, USA

2015     Panhellenic Entomological Congress, Heraklion, Greece

(Co-)Supervision MSc, PhD and Postdocs:

8 BSc students, >30 MSc students, 10 PhD students and 4 Postdocs (2004-present)

Teaching activities:

2016-present     Webs of Terrestrial Diversity (BSc), Wageningen University

2016-present     Biodiversity of the Netherlands (BSc), Wageningen University